Sticks and stones will break your bones…

…but names will never harm you…or so goes the old rhyme that has been recited by millions of parents the world over millions of times since time immemorial. You are of course familiar with the scene. You are out playing on the street as a child and a little contretemps ensues between you and your best friend and some minor pleasantries are exchanged in that grandiloquent patois of the under-ten! Usually you are accused of smelling or of your daddy always being drunk or your brother being stupid, or your name is stupid, or your parents are getting divorced, or that you are adopted…you are no doubt au fait with the mantra of insults that in truth are more likely to have originated in the home of the insulter over the Sunday dinner. The main thing is though that your mother or father tells you that it is all ok and that your best friend never meant any of it and that actions are more damaging than words and so on…

If we are honest how many of us have uttered words that we never meant at all. I know that I am guilty. I can stand accused of saying things in anger or in hurt that I never really meant however virulent they were at the precise moment of utterance. They are no sooner spoken or written than they are regretted. The problem is that once these words are out there they are sometimes impossible to retrieve. More precisely I believe that it is well nigh impossible to retrieve angry words by the subsequent essaying of pleasant, remorseful or contrite ones in their stead. There is something comforting in the old adage-action speaks louder than words. Remorse and truth are better demonstrated in doing rather than more saying. The issue is though that the circumstances and context usually need to be right to allow for action. Problems of location and distance present challenges that can really only be overcome by personal interaction or by deeds and doing. Yes, words, meaningful conversations, define-the-relationship chats, cards, flowers etc can all go some way to closing any distance created by anger but that final (if I may paraphrase Kipling) sixty seconds’ worth of distance unrun requires something more, something only surmountable in the face-to-face contact that our innate condition demands…the physical touch, the searching look into the eyes of the hurt by the hurter..the frantic search for sparks of forgiveness in the deepest recesses of the eyes, or the seeking out of the faint smile, or something positive in the tactile brush of skin, affable pinch, kiss, handshake, hug, pat on the back, touch of the shoulder that might somehow be fanned into a fire of real forgiveness and from the ashes of which an even stronger emotional edifice constructed.

The real question I suppose is how do we get to understand the source of the anger, the source of the hurt that fired up the rage and eventuated in a verbal or written attack? What is the energy source of such anger and rage? I am not a psychologist and the only basis on which I can proffer an understanding is the bitter experience of life…yes, I have been there a few times, indeed I could open the proverbial t-shirt shop (note to self-does this mean I have anger issues?).

I am going to suggest that the source of most anger lies in several things. First, I would argue that a fundamental lack of communication between two people on any number of issues leads to a kind of pent up frustration. It might be as simple as two people having developed different ways of communicating and this manifesting itself as one person coming over as more needy than the other for example. Second, if a lack of honesty is manifest in a relationship and one person knows that the other is hiding, or running from an inescapable truth in that relationship, this leads to non-communication or a gradual accumulation of anger and frustration that will occasionally boil over in the absence of an equally weighted and balanced and available forum for its expression hence vitriol. Third, I posit that non-communication or the non-availability of a forum of expression is a powerful, usually negative and often violent type of communication itself. Indeed this type of communication usually more than any other precipitates boil over. Finally there is the alcohol factor. Alcohol is the common thread that all too often links the three aforementioned issues. There is a common Latin phrase-‘In vino veritas.’ This translates as-‘In wine (alcohol) there is truth.’ Whilst I believe that alcohol is all too often associated with all that is bad or painful in society-disease, relationship breakdown, death, debt, violence, melancholy,unplanned pregnancy and the violence of language I am not so sure that I fully subscribe to all of the implications of the Latin phrase. Yes, alcohol may be the agent that effects behavioural change and in some instances the consumption of alcohol is the only reason for a tragic consequence of alcohol-related behaviour. In the case of linguistic violence however I am convinced that the fundamental stresses in the relationship are already there. These may well  be related to life stress, to depression, to mental health issues, to random events but nonetheless they are core to the mean, spiteful, alcohol fuelled ,violent, aggressive and painful outbursts that I refer to above. It is important to really analyse and discuss and process these stresses to avoid the repetitive cycles so often associated with such angry verbal attacks.

Honesty is always best I believe. This applies to personal and professional relationships equally. Whether it is romance, managing a football team, project work, being the boss, or being a parent, directness and honesty conveyed in a format devoid of personal insult and invective is always best. Yes, it is ok to be angry. Yes it is ok and healthy to let people know that you are hurt by their actions, offended by their words and that you are angry. Such emotions and feelings just need to be communicated in an appropriate way and in a way that ameliorates the situation, resolves the issues, relieves the hurt and the tension as opposed to the too often unintended exacerbation of an already messy situation. On a personal note I try to work hard at that. I don’t always succeed but I just keep trying.

I suppose I just cling to an old phrase that my father attributes to his own father-‘A dog’s anger never scattered a house.’ That little saying has served me well in the trials and tribulations of my own life’s journey. Indeed it is I believe the conscious effort to continue to work at removing personal anger and healing the hurt that we receive and dispense that actually builds that house and that repairs it and makes it even stronger and more robust after the ravages of the many storms by which it and indeed its very foundations are occasionally rocked.

Sticks and stones will break your bones and names will never harm you…maybe mammy was partially right after all.